Can horses help you live in the moment? Animal psychotherapy to cope with past traumas or deal with disabilities has been long established, but two women in Luxembourg are harnessing the power of horses as mindfulness teachers.
Australian horsewoman Kylie Morrison grew up with horses at her cousin’s farm in Victoria. As a teenager she was competent at dressage, jumping and cross-country, and in adulthood she ran an equestrian smallholding near Melbourne with dreams of breeding and training New Forest ponies.
It was only when she arrived in Luxembourg that she made the connection that horses were powerful teachers that could help people to overcome personal growth issues. Together with UK native Kate Ensor, she founded Herd, which stands for Human Equine Realised Development. It offers a blend of horsemanship, equine facilitated learning (EFL), mindfulness and coaching.
“Horsemanship is not just about riding. Building respect and connections from the ground up helps our clients to master their energy and form a partnership with these powerful, independent creatures. It’s a great way to build self-esteem and self-belief, and for children it helps with managing attention and emotions, and developing gross and fine motor control,” says Morrison.
“Horses live in a herd so they’re tuned into the energy and emotions of others around them. They help us identify when we’re not fully self-aware and if we’re agitated, they’ll react to it,” explains Morrison, adding that horses also have different personalities, and Herd has big-hearted Shetland ponies, a thoroughbred, a gentle German riding pony, and a strong Anglo-Arab gelding.
Clients begin by learning body awareness tools which they apply when they meet the horses and ponies. “Most clients choose a horse they feel comfortable with,” explains Ensor. “EFL is not a therapy, but it can be therapeutic. We teach our clients to build respect from the ground up, working with horses through lunging and in freedom [with no collar or bridle], to help them master their intention and energy. Horses have slower biorhythms. This means spending time with a calm horse can support us in calming ourselves.”
Morrison sees horses as inherently social, with skilful ways to communicate through body language, movements and energy. She explains that whilst Herd horses “are domesticated horses, not wild Brumbies from the high plains of Victoria, we consider their herd roles and behaviours for different activities. For some clients, size can be unsettling, so we have different sized horses and ponies. The aim is for clients to learn how to just be, recognise what is intuitive and do what they feel is present for them in the moment.”
The duo runs a number of programmes from regular lessons incorporating classical horsemanship with EFL to one-off sessions, including the successful “Hygge with horses” workshop. This year Herd has launched discovery sessions, an introduction to mindfulness, and one-day workshops entitled “Be your purpose” and “Be yourself” designed to help people be the best version of themselves. All workshops and lessons include basic training in horse safety and psychology and are open to anyone, regardless of their horse-riding experience.
Morrison says: “Horses don’t wear masks and they are not judgemental. What you see and feel from the horse is what you get. Our horse programmes take a holistic approach and consider the emotional, mental and physical way our clients develop a relationship with a horse using activities that create trust, confidence and connection.”